By Lauren Van Hemert, American Theatre Critics Association member; photo by Curtis Brown Photography
In 1999, a sophomore at Wesleyan University began working on a musical about immigrants in the Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights. He premiered the first draft of his show in April 2000 on campus.
Countless readings and workshops later, and a far cry from his dorm at Wesleyan, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights opened off-Broadway in 2007. A year later, the show moved to Broadway and went on to win four Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The film version of In the Heights is scheduled to be released in 2020.
This week, it's the show with which North Carolina Theatre opens their season with a production which is nothing short of sublime.
At the helm of this production is Andres Quintero who plays shop owner Usnavi, the role originated by Miranda. Quintero masterfully rhapsodizes his way through the syncopated rhythms of the score as if possessed by Miranda himself.
The talented cast also features troupers from the Broadway production and national tours, including Danny Bolero (Kevin Rosario), Genny Lis Padilla (Daniela), and Nicole Paloma Sarro (Abuela Claudia).
In addition, Director/Choreographer Michael Balderrama brings his wealth of experience with this show to the North Carolina stage. Balderrama performed in the original Broadway cast and worked on both national tours as Associate Choreographer and Director/Choreographer respectively. His electrifying choreography blazes across the stage fusing together Latino and hip-hop street styles.
There is something not only joyous but also timely about In the Heights, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. It is a story about community and family and is as much an American story as it is a story about immigrants seeking asylum or a better life, a heartfelt reminder of the ideals on which our country was founded.
It should be noted that In the Heights marks the last show for the North Carolina Theatre’s Artistic Director Casey Hushion. Hushion, who was the Assistant Director of In the Heights on Broadway as well as the national tour, is currently the Associate/Resident Director of Mean Girls on Broadway and is looking forward to working as Associate Director of ‘The Prom,’ which opens on Broadway next month. New York casting director and North Carolina native Eric Woodall joins North Carolina Theatre as its Artistic Director next month.
In the Heights is a North Carolina Theatre production now playing at The Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South Street, Raleigh, until October 21st. Performance times vary; check the NC Theatre website.